Enterprise social networks: why yours fail

Mike Stopforth Submitted by on the 1st of September 2017

There was a time, not so long ago, when I believed enterprise social networks would revolutionise the workplace. It had to be only a matter of time until the corporate intranet, the daily email deluge, and droves of disengaged employees were disrupted by social trends and technologies.

It didn’t really happen, did it? We have seen a parade of enterprise social networks come and go. Some have gained prominence and attached themselves to juggernaut vendors, others have faded from view. None have really fulfilled on the promise of harnessing the collective intellectual capital of modern corporations through open innovation and communication.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram dominate the “consumer web” with exponential growth and influence. Facebook, for all intents and purposes, is the internet to many of its two billion users. Why then haven’t we seen the same level of adoption inside organisations using technologies that so closely mimic the features and behaviours of social media?

I believe there are three primary reasons enterprise social networks fail, and very few of them have anything to do with technology or security. Almost all failures of enterprise social networks are a failure to understand people and culture.

1. Amplifiers, not band-aids

Enterprise social networks are not quick-solves for communication and collaboration issues in organisations. They are, in fact, amplifiers of existing cultural norms and dynamics.

While enterprise social networks could assist in addressing cultural pillars, and breaking down some of the traditional hierarchies and boundaries between levels and departments, these initiatives take time and energy.

2. What’s in it for me?

Employees are already required to access and maintain a multitude of digital tools from a communication, compliance and training perspective. Adding yet another digital platform to the mix without providing a compelling reason for doing so is asking for trouble. After the initial novelty of logging in and experimenting with the platform, usage will ebb and die a slow horrible death.

To ensure consistent uptake and usage, you’ll need to convince employees early on that the platform is both useful and necessary. For a platform to be useful, it has to be user friendly. It has to be intuitive. It has to be, well, natural. We were particularly excited about the launch of Facebook’s enterprise social network, Workplace, for this reason. Facebook is an environment most business users are already comfortable with. The barrier to entry is lower than unfamiliar networks, and functionality mirrors that of Facebook, so employees already feel “at home”.

Secondly, you’ll need to design necessity. If it’s easy for employees to default back to older ways of doing things, they’ll do so quickly. Make sure there are documents, events, announcements, or communications, that happen exclusively in your chosen enterprise social network. It sounds a little manipulative, but that way employees will have to go there to experience or retrieve those artifacts.

3. Top down, not bottom up

‘Wait just a minute!’ I hear you shout from your cubicle. Aren’t social networks (particularly those professing to facilitate internal collaboration) all about bottom-up communication and connection? Well, yes, they are. In many ways they dismantle the traditional hierarchies that characterise so many modern businesses. But without support from key leaders in the organisation, adoption and usage will be incredibly difficult to maintain.

You’ll need to identify a champion, or a group of champions, to advocate for the platform and be an ambassador for participation. They’ll need to embody principles of transparency and availability. They’ll need to care. Get that right, and people will follow suit.

Getting your organisation to connect and communicate in new ways can be extremely challenging, but is an absolute necessity if you’re to maintain your competitive edge in the new world of work. Adopt some of these methods and principles and you’ll find the task much easier. Or hire us, and we’ll do it with you!